Simple Cubes in 3d

Human beings have a natural desire for simplicity and understanding. That is understandable because our world is so complex, and we would feel lost and intimidated by the mass of things we do not understand and which are a mystery to us.

That is why we (subconsciously) feel the need to explain everything and attribute it to a known cause, even if it just happens through randomness or it is something too complex for us to properly understand yet.

That is why gods were so popular in earlier times, they were the perfect way to link anything not understandable to a direct cause. It is harder to admit that “I don’t know why the harvest was bad this year” than to say “Yeah, Persephone didn’t like us this year, that is why the harvest was bad” and have an explanation.

We often believe to have advanced a lot since ancient times, but even today we create stories and narratives to make sense of the world around us.

This is evident in the way people will offer opinions on a wide range of topics, even if they don’t have any deep understanding of the subject. The current political situation, the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, or just the next sports game are all examples of areas where people suddenly turn into experts and offer insights and explanations, even if they have a very shallow understanding of the topic.

We are excellent at creating stories and (false) narratives around complex topics, and maybe I am also guilty of this at this very moment. Human interactivity is such a complex area, that I might be over-fitting this idea onto too many things.

So what should we do about this?

Our need to find explanations for everything is not inherently bad; in fact, it is the reason for most of our scientific progress. Striving for better and better explanations gets us closer to the truth. I will explain the correct way how to obtain knowledge in another essay on epistemology.

However, we tend to oversimplify complex matters. Most often something may behave in a non-linear way that is unpredictable or has far more variables than we might think initially. These are the moments in which we need to be careful not to blindly believe someone’s explanation, and also to not create our own oversimplification.

This is especially true when dealing with matters outside of the hard sciences, such as human interactions and social systems. Any system that involves humans and social interactions can be seen as complex, where any attempt at causal explanation will most surely be too simple.

This manifests mostly in biases, like the survivorship bias. We see a hard-working and successful person and immediately think that this person is only successful due to hard work. Missing most of the other variables that were needed for success. And it gets even worse if we infer from this that hard work always leads to success because we don’t see all the other people that also worked hard, but didn’t get successful due to several circumstances outside of their control.

To overcome this tendency, it is important to recognize our desire to create causal connections and strive for a deeper understanding of the world, rather than relying on oversimplified explanations. We should try to inspect a topic from all angles, consider both the pro and contra arguments, and take into account all necessary variables.

And most importantly, we should remember that it is okay to admit that we don’t have a deep enough understanding of the topic and need to further engage with the material before forming a strong opinion.

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